By Tim Hancox
Peter de Villiers (PDV) has only just named his first training squad and with all the shenanigans of his initial selection, contract issues and the very large Jake White sized boots to fill, the poor man is a sitting duck for rugby pundits nationwide. I doubt there has ever been an entirely well-received squad when there are so many couch selectors.
The injured Wayne Julies and Andre Pretorius, overseas Gary Botha and retired Os du Randt are the only World Cup names missing from the list. This is well-balanced with some new impressive young talents such as Duanne Vermeulen and Andries Bekker who have both shone in the Super 14 this year. PDV has recalled experienced stalwarts John Smit, Percy Montgomery, Victor Matfield and Butch James even though they have been playing abroad. This means that South Africa might finally have a member in the hundred club as we welcome the returning Montgomery, who currently stands on 94 caps. During that time he has had several variations of floppy blond hair and amassed a record 873 points including a few beauties to bring home the William Webb Ellis Cup.
While an effort has been made to emphasise that this is only a training squad to assess players, there are some surprise selections that have left me scratching my head. Mr Obscure Gerhard Mostert from the Auto & Generally Kak Lions has made it, along with the uninspiring featherweight Isma-eel Dollie, the controversial Luke Watson and my personal favourite, the obnoxious Earl Rose who seems to think the world owes him something, like-some talent perhaps?
Springbok training camps aside, there is still a lot of Super 14 rugby before the Wales tests. The only South African hope going into the last four are the Sharks, after the Stormers shot themselves in the foot by not gaining a bonus point against the hapless Lions over the weekend. After such an impressive turn-around under Coach Rassie Erasmus, the final hurdle proved too big for the men from the Cape. The Sharks do look promising and might just be peaking at the right time. Good wins over the Cheetahs and Chiefs in the last two weeks has allowed Coach Dick Muir the chance for a big ‘I told you so’. Muir stated early in the season: “Watch out for us when we get going”.
There is also a renewed feeling that the Crusaders are beatable after the Highlanders got the better of them on the weekend. That shows the openness of the competition which is also accentuated by the fact that the Chiefs in the middle of the table beat the Crusaders at the top and lost to the Lions at the bottom. There is no substitute for Super rugby and belief that the competition is getting stale is nonsense. If lots of tries and open running rugby is what the fans want then the Super 14 is the place to find it.
Cheers to that!